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SC seeks Centre, J&K admin reply on 4G network contempt plea

The Supreme Court on Thursday sought a response from the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir administration on a contempt plea alleging no special committee was formed to decide on the restoration of the 4G network, in terms of the top court’s judgement, within the Union Territory.

A bench of Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai gave one weeks time to both the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir administration, for the purpose.

Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, maintained that no contempt was made out as the special committee was formed to take a considered decision in the matter. He said the judgement was delivered on May 11 and the same date, the high-powered panel was formed for the continuance of 2G services only. Similar orders were passed afterwards even after filing of the contempt petition before the court.

Venugopal said the minutes of the meetings would be out before the court which disclosed the startling situation, showing a high incidence of terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Jammu and Kashmir administration, supported the submission made by Venugopal.

The bench, however, asked him why the decision was not made public.

Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for NGO Foundation for Media Professionals, said they were not responding to our representations for making public those decisions on reviewing the situation on restoring 4G network. He also claimed that the people over there continued to suffer with online classes and medical facilities being seriously affected, which was in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution.

The plea filed in the court sought contempt action against top officers for “willful failure” to comply with June 8 order for setting up a special committee “immediately” to determine the necessity of continued restriction of mobile internet speeds in Jammu and Kashmir to 2G only.

The petition sought action against Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir also for violating the judgement on May 11, 2020.

The contempt petition was drafted with assistance by advocates Vrinda Bhandari and Apar Gupta and Devdutta Mukhopadhaya of the Internet Freedom Foundation. They pointed out the special committee, separate from the review committee, prescribed under the Telecom Suspension Rules, had to consider the alternatives and determine whether 3G or 4G internet could be provided to certain regions in Jammu and Kashmir on a trial basis.

“Despite the directions of the court, no such committee seems to have been constituted, and no order has been published by them, reviewing the orders on continued 2G restrictions,” the plea said.

The FMP claimed that it had sent two representations but it did not receive any response or acknowledgement.

The petitioner also filed a separate application for bringing on record subsequent orders issued by the Jammu and Kashmir administration under the Temporary Telecom Suspension Rules 2017 after the Supreme Court delivered its judgement on May 11, 2020.

“Even after the Supreme Court’s clarification that restrictions on internet access must be temporally and territorially limited to what is absolutely necessary, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has directed internet service providers to slow down mobile internet speed to 2G in all districts without providing any specific reasons,” it said.

The petitioner also questioned the government’s assertion that internet speed restrictions have not hindered Covid-19 control measures and access to online resources.

Besides, it said, “Restoration of 4G internet services is a broad-based demand which has been endorsed by Ram Madhav, National General Secretary of BJP as well, and a statement by Amit Shah, Minister of Home Affairs about Jammu and Kashmir experiencing lowest incidents of terrorism since 1990 after the abrogation of Article 370.”

The petitioner sought a direction to notify the special committee within three working days and for the special committee to determine the issue in three working days.

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